Kenya Wildlife Service (KWS) has bought 17,000 acres of land in Nanyuki from former President Moi for Sh400 million to establish a national park as it seeks to grow high-end tourists.
Mr Moi has been using the land as a ranch and KWS says it will turn it into a conservancy awaiting accumulation of more land parcels in the area to eventually create a large national park.
“The park will be called Laikipia National Park and the land will in the meantime serve as a migration corridor for animals in the various private conservancies, including Ol Pejeta and Loi Saba,” said Julius Kipng’etich, the KWS director.
“We understand other owners of private game reserves in Laikipia are selling their land and we plan to raise money to buy the land establish a national park ,” said Dr Kipng’etich.
Laikipia is a tourism circuit popular with high-end tourists keen on luxury offering such as tented camps and it hosts prominent resorts such as Ol Pejeta, Lewa and Loisaba. It has hosted prominent visitors such as British royals Prince William and his wife Kate Middleton.
The transaction was funded with the help of a US-based wildlife organisation— Nature Conservancy.
Finance minister Uhuru Kenyatta in the latest Kenya gazette has exempted KWS from paying the four per cent or Sh16 million in stamp duty on the transaction.
The deal set to spotlight land transactions by large land owners such as former president, who are racing to cash in outsized returns from rising demand of property. The former president acquired thousands of acres of land during his 24-year rule and has in the past few years come under pressure from the current administration and civil rights activists to revert some of it to the State.
Mr Moi, for instance, holds thousands of acres of land in Mau Forest which he said was given by the Narok County Council during his reign.
The coalition government has targeted Mr Moi and other owners of large tracts of land as it seeks to reclaim the Mau Forest. The new Constitution gives legal backing to cut back on excess holding of land for extended periods of time.
The proposed National Land Commission shall have powers to “repossess public land that was acquired through unlawful or unprocedural means.”
The policies expected to hit large land owners include a cap on land holding, tax on idle land and reduction of lease period for foreign land owners from 999 years to 99 years.
These policies have seen more large land owners sell part of the land holdings, a trend that is expected to gather pace in the medium term as institutions and laws addressing historical land injustices are set up.
For KWS, the setup of another national park will be a boost its earnings which had taken a hit from high operational expenses.
KWS currently has 33 national parks and reserves spread across the country. The state-owned corporation has relied heavily on government support and has raised its park entry fees this year to cope with rising staff costs and other operational expenses like park maintenance, animal stocking and migration.
In the latest increase, the fees were raised to $80 (Sh8,000) from a minimum of $60 (Sh6,000) on premium parks. In the special gazette notice, Forestry and Wildlife minister Noah Wekesa also reviewed the fees structure by eliminating low and high season fees and introducing a flat rate charge in a bid to boost revenues.
Foreign visitors used to pay $60 (Sh6,000) during the low season at the premium parks—Amboseli and Lake Nakuru —and $75 (Sh7,500) during the peak seasons, which runs from January to March and July to October.
Dr Wekesa said the review is aimed at boosting KWS coffers to allow it meet its conservation obligations, arguing that the efforts are becoming expensive, causing the state-owned firm to run a huge deficit.
The review comes less than a year after KWS increased its fees in January in what led to a 47 per cent rise in its turnover to Sh2.8 billion in the year to June 2010.
Its expenses rose to Sh4.6 billion from Sh3.7 billion on higher salaries and park maintenance fees—which left it with a deficit of Sh1.54 billion that was plugged by government (Sh860 million), donations (Sh170 million) and donor funding (Sh198 million).